[F1 2019 VIDEO FEATURE] JAPANESE DRIVERS: NEXT GENERATION

Next weekend's Formula 1 event at Suzuka will be the fifth-straight without a Japanese driver on the grid, Kamui Kobayashi the last back in 2014 with now-defunct squad Caterham after stints at Toyota and Sauber.

… the Amagasaki-born racer initially coming in with a lot of hype.

SOUNDBITE (English) KAMUI KOBAYASHI,
F1 DRIVER, 2009-2014:
“I think first of all, I want to see if I can win [races] or not, you know. And once I win, maybe I want to win the championship. But I think this is always step by step.”

But with Honda's growing influence in the sport, a result of its recent Red Bull redemption, complete with two race victories, the pressure to again have a Japanese driver is growing.

Just 17 drivers from Japan have started a race since Hiroshi Fushida at the 1975 Dutch Grand Prix, with just 10 of those blasting off from the grid more than four times in their careers.

Kobayashi remains the most successful with 125 points, and one podium (at home in Suzuka in 2012) across 75 F1 starts for Toyota, BMW-Sauber-turned-Sauber and Caterham.

The most famous is Takuma Sato, who also earned a podium across his 90 F1 starts from 2002 to 2008. The now 42-year-old racing in America’s IndyCar series, and won the Indy 500 in 2017. 

The next driver however might be Honda’s F2 star Nobuharu Matsushita, who despite a crash in Russia finished sixth in the standings with two wins and one pole position post-Sochi. 

F2 also has Marino Sato, though he joined late in the 2019 season. In FIA F3, Red Bull and Honda-backed Yuki Tsunoda won in Monza, with Teppei Natori another protege of the Japanese marque.

For now, it looks like Matsushita is closest… but the land of the rising sun needs a star in an F1 car. And with Red Bull Honda improving every week, it’s not going to be too long until another Japanese driver steps up…